A Glorious Past—And It Does Have a Future!
Cardiac auscultation remains an important part of clinical medicine. The standard acoustic stethoscope, which has been useful for more than a century, cannot process, store, and play back sounds or provide visual display, and teaching is hindered because there is no means to distribute the same sounds simultaneously to more than one listener. Modern portable and inexpensive tools are now available to provide, through digital electronic means, better sound quality with visual display and the ability to replay sounds of interest at either full or half speed with no loss of frequency representation or sound quality. Visual display is possible in both standard waveform and spectral formats. The latter format is readily available and provides certain advantages over the time-honored waveform (phonocardiographic) method. Both methods, however, can and should be used simultaneously. Sound signals obtained electronically may then be subjected to objective visual and numerical analysis, transmitted to distant sites, and stored in medical records. Signal analysis shows early promise for clinical application, such as in the assessment of severity of aortic stenosis and in the separation of innocent from organic murmurs. In addition to their clinical value, these methods provide a critical vehicle for the teaching of cardiac auscultation, a method that can and should be preserved for future generations.